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The Sweet Spot

Roll-to-Roll Printers in the Spotlight

By Melissa Donovan

Roll-to-roll (R2R) printers output to a variety of substrates, providing end users with a number of applications from one device. Many offer flexible ink sets, advanced media handling capabilities, productivity enhancements, and a versatile color gamut.

 

As applications develop in the graphic arts, wide format printer manufacturers must keep pace. To do so, each introduces new models and/or updates existing machines.

 

Newest, Greatest, Fastest

R2R printers come to market quickly. New ink sets, curing capabilities, media handling features, and finishing capabilities drive the competition. Hybrid models, combining flatbed and R2R capabilities, are also of note to potential buyers.

 

Agfa Graphics launched the Anapurna M3200 RTR and Ardeco 3308 and 3312 printers around the Fall 2013 trade show schedule. The Anapurna, a UV device, utilizes the latest generation Konica Minolta printheads and achieves speeds of over 1,000 square feet per hour (sf/h). Both Ardeco devices, direct-to-fabric machines, work with seven picoliter printheads offering solid colors, gradients, and high detail. Polyester-based coated fabric runs best on this system. The Anapurna M3200’s list price is approximately $219K. The Ardeco ranges from $288K to $358K depending on the configuration.

 

The CET Color X-Series hybrid R2R UV printers are offered in both 2.5 and 3.2 meters. Each processes banner material and wallcovering media with heavy-duty supply and take-up shafts. They print up to 1,000 sf/h with a six-color printing process, which provides better skin tones and gradients. A white option allows for printing to clear media. The X-Series hybrid devices are available starting at just above $83,000.

 

Eastsign International Ltd.’s latest introductions focus on textile printing. In November 2013, a variety of devices came to market including its EX3-TEX, EX3-DYE, EX3-ECO, and EX8 printers. Each device includes a steel guiding rail and is equipped with Dx5 piezo printheads. Eastsign’s engineers in China continually work to test the best compatible materials and work out ICC profiles.

 

EFI’s newest R2R device is the EFI VUTEk GS3250LXr Pro. “The cool aspect of LED means it runs on a lot of thin and low-cost substrates that melt or warp using other print methods. It is why, for example, we have a customer who runs bubble wrap through a VUTEk LED printer,” explains Mark Goodearl, product manager, inkjet solutions, EFI. The dedicated roll device features an optional chiller, meaning what little heat exists in the LED curing process is reduced even further, and allows for a broader range of compatible media.

 

Epson launched the Epson SureColor F7170 in January 2014, an all new, 64-inch R2R dye-sublimation (dye-sub) transfer printer. An optional post-print, built-in heater is designed to expedite ink drying times. It also leverages an accurate winding take-up reel. “The light turning mechanism of the re-engineered reel reduces the hassle of an inaccurately wound roll and also helps to eliminate creases and skewing,” shares Catalina Frank, product manager, professional imaging group, Epson. The printer has an MSRP of $19,995.

 

Fujifilm North America Corp., graphic systems division, premiered the Uvistar Pro-8W with White at the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA) expo in 2013. Light inks produce high-quality point of purchase displays and the auto loader enables operators to print one to 25 sheets of media from .1 to one inches thick. The device prints R2R, free fall, and roll to sheet. “With its automation of rigid media handling, two-sided printing, and inline finishing it is an operator’s dream machine,” shares Jeffrey Nelson, business development manager - inkjet solutions, Fujifilm.

 

Gunsjet by Digitex Printing Technologies Co., Ltd. now offers the E5A-DS series of direct sublimation printers. Available in 1.8 and 3.2 meter models, the portfolio is ideal for high production runs with an unwind/rewind tension bar, feeding system, and take-up roller. The E5A-DS series starts from $27,500 USD.

 

Hewlett-Packard’s (HP’s) most recent introduction includes the HP Latex 3000 Printer. According to Tom Wittenberg, sign and display market segment manager, the Americas, HP, the R2R device is the first HP Latex solution to feature industrial speeds without sacrificing image quality. The printer utilizes third generation HP Latex 881 Inks and is equipped with the HP Latex Optimizer.

 

Meijet Digital Technology Inc. offers eco-solvent, latex, UV, and textile R2R printers. Of note, its textile printer that prints up to 126 inches wide directly on fabrics including cotton, polyester, silk, and nylon without pre-treatment. The Meijet printers range in price from $7,995 to $29,995.

 

Mimaki USA, Inc. introduced the UJV500-160 LED UV printer at SGIA 2013. The printer is equipped with the option of a third-party bulk feed and take-up system for large volume print production. Two ink sets are available, LUS-200 and LUS-150. In Q1 of 2014, Mimaki plans to have white ink available for testing in the LUS-200 set. The UJV500-160 is offered at an MSRP of $139,000.

 

Mutoh America, Inc. debuted the ValueJet 1638X and 1638WX, eco-solvent and dye-sub water-based printers, in January 2014. Duel staggered printheads provide the capability of speeds over 1,000 sf/h. Four-color drop-on-demand print technology ensures high-quality images. Equipped with Mutoh’s Intelligent Interweave print technology, banding is virtually eliminated. Both are priced at an MSRP of $27,995.

 

Next Wave Media Solutions distributes the Reggiani ReNoir line of paper transfer and direct to print wide format R2R printers. A range of media can used in the devices and the number of printheads is scalable from four to 32 depending on user requirements. According to Steve Urmano, VP of hardware and marketing, Next Wave, the Reggiani is a true production printer—one that offers scalability so the customer can grow with their investment.

 

Polytype America recently showcased its NQ32. It prints at speeds up to 3,000 sf/h in nine colors, plus white. UV-based, it handles any type of flexible material—banner, scrim banner, heavy and light papers, and tight weave textiles.

 

Roland DGA Corporation introduces the VersaCAMM VSi series of printer/cutters. Available in three sizes—30, 54, and 64 inches—new features include front-loading ink cartridges, an ink recirculation system that reduces ink waste and running costs, and on-the-fly print/cut adjustment. The printers utilize Eco-Sol MAX 2 inks, available in five different ink configurations and specialty ink options such as white, metallic silver, and light black. The 30-, 54-, and 64-inch models are priced at $16,495, $19,995, and $23,995, respectively.

 

Seiko I Infotech Inc. released the ColorPainter M-64s in September 2013. The 64-inch printer utilizes SX ink, which offers low running costs and a low level of odor. A six-color configuration is offered in addition to a seven color, which includes gray ink. The ColorPainter M-64s also includes new optical sensors that automatically perform both media advancement and bi-directional position adjustment. It is released at an MSRP starting at $40,299.

 

Teckwin International LLC continues to promote its TeckPro UV3200 and UV5000 devices. Both utilize UV technology. The TeckPro UV3200 is available in CMYK, Lc, Lm, and W; while the TeckPro UV5000 is available in CMYK, Lc, and Lm.

 

A Look into the Future

The segment morphs and changes as more devices become available. Consolidation is a possibility. “Wide format is primed for consolidation and we are already beginning to see that movement. Total R2R devices are projected to continue to grow at about three percent per annum through 2017. We see this evolution toward UV ink growth with devices that offer higher speeds and finer resolution,” shares Larry D’Amico, VP digital imaging, Agfa.

 

Hybrid devices are a physical example of consolidation. Manufacturers look to cater to both types of printing in one device, while simultaneously blending their strengths with partners or acquired companies. “The consolidation will come in the form of more hybrid printers being introduced into the market. As market pressure and customer requests increase for faster, more productive printers, we as manufacturers will continue to react to the market need,” shares Jim Cain, director of sales - digital, Polytype.

 

There is a specific price niche targeted by R2R printers, and it is one that manufacturers remain focused on. “R2R printers continue to concentrate on the cost-sensitive segment of the market for both short- and long-term signage needs where digital signage is not the best or cost-effective application,” explains Noel Mareno, national distribution manager, Teckwin.

 

Manufacturers address cost sensitivity with enhancements that drive prices down. “There will be additional developments in ink technologies and as they become more inexpensive, economic, and environmentally friendly, it will drive down costs. Seiko is at the forefront of technology and will continue to expand and enhance its printers in the 200 to 1,000 sf/h space,” adds Jeff Olson, national sales manager, Seiko.

 

R2R printers are used in a variety of applications and because of this, their growth is paramount. “We expect to see continued expansion in the print/cut market segment. Because of the versatility, these printers appeal to an array of customers,” shares David Hawkes, group product manager - sign and textile printing, Roland.

 

Textile printing is a trend heavily affecting the space. “The margin in these applications is higher than the conventional market. Manufacturers will turn their focus onto these trends to satisfy the requirement of print shops,” foresees Marcus Tam, marketing manager, Eastsign.

 

“We can see that dye-sub and direct-to-fabric printing are blooming now. These methods provide vivid colors and are more convenient for users compared to the traditional printing method,” agrees Edmond Fung, director, Digitex.

 

The Sweet Spot

R2R devices are not disruptive technology. What is surprising, however, is their ability to change and grow. Building on tried-and-true hardware, manufacturers adapt base models with efficient and high-quality ink sets. This coupled with media handling advancements are a direct result of the variety of media now almost required to run through a device. Aware of this need for versatility, hardware manufacturers and ink chemists hit the sweet spot. 

 

Click here to view the Print to Roll Target Chart - an all-inclusive information resource!

 

Mar2014, Digital Output

 
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